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Recently, my wife and I watched the movie Argo. This movie is based on a true story, with many of the people who lived the story still alive today. I have to wonder what it is like to be one of those people who lived factual events and how they handled the writer’s liberties with the story? Did their familiarity with the story breed a contempt for the storyline? Our familiarity with the history of this time will have to change. Was Carter really a soft President? Suddenly, the story of this movie has made historians reexamine this once familiar time.
Once upon a time, I became tired of hearing the Gospel story; not because I was not a Christian, but because I already knew everything I needed to know. The familiarity of the Gospel is not always a good thing. Sometimes, we can become contemptuous of something we dearly love. The Gospel was nearly dead to me, because I was so tired of hearing the story, so tired of reading the story — but once I realized just how much I was a part of the story, I began to see the Gospel as alive. I became a part of the same story told for two thousand years.
Do not mistake me — we are always a part of the story because Jesus died for the sins of the world, but that is still words on paper. No, I am talking about becoming such a part of the story you can smell the cattle stalls and hear the sounds of Roman legions marching near Jerusalem.
The story of Jesus is one retold countless times — sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of hope. Jesus was born to a Virgin right near Christmas, received gifts from three wise men, smart mouthed his mother when he was twelve, and got killed. Along the way, he did some miracles, we think. Maybe they are miracles. Who knows, right? Sure, he was the Son of God, but aren’t we all? And he died on a cross, for a reason we still argue about, and he was brought back to life just in time for Easter. This story is just too familiar to us. ! Familiarity breeds contempt.
Those most familiar with Jesus were those who held him in the most contempt. In Mark 3, Jesus’s family shows up. They do not believe him — as a matter of fact, they think that Jesus needs to be committed. Even his mother doubted him.
See, with familiarity comes a certain amount of dis-fascination. Jesus’s family was no longer fascinated with him, and more often than not, troubled by him. When he challenged their expectations, they challenged his legitimacy. !
No doubt, he was a good man. Perhaps he was a good prophet. Maybe they liked the fact that he doled out free health care. Obviously the guy was a good cook — what he couldn’t do with bread and ﬁsh! But he was the son of a father who never showed up on the weekends. He was the older brother who picked on the younger children. He was a loner and got lost on long trips. Jesus was just too familiar to them. They’ve seen him
sick, mad, crying, at his worst, at his best, but they simply could not accept him as the messiah, as the son of God. I mean, Mary changed his diapers. ! Think for a moment, as if you were Mary. If you child, even the one that was
perfect, even your favorite, told you one day she was leaving to go save people from their sins, maybe even die in the end, but no worries, mom and dad — I’ll come back to life again... What would you do?
Had Jesus remained just Jesus, just the step-son of a carpenter and a half-brother to a priest, they would have cared little what he said.
So if his family did not accept the ﬂesh and blood Jesus because he was too familiar, why do we want to hear his story once again, one more time — one more boring, dulling, mind-numbing time? At some point, the Greatest Story Ever Told becomes the “Oh dear God, not again.”
Familiarity, it seems, outfoxes our love of the story and breeds contempt.
I grew up reading nothing but the King James Version of the bible. As I grew older, my contempt for bible reading grew. I knew it already, so why should I continue to read it? I practically had it memorized. But, because of my contempt with reading the bible, I fell out of practice. It became foreign to me. ! But one day, Abigael insisted on getting a pink metal bible. It was the New Living
Translation. As I set about to read it, I ﬁnd the same stories new – fresh. The familiar
passages, while still yet familiar, because something new again. It was a new voice coming from the NLT and it was a voice that rescued my bible reading.
Is it possible that the story of Jesus is so familiar we no longer know it? Yes, we know the basic plot lines — but they are only words on a paper. We know Peter, James, and John — but they are just characters in a story. It is a story, now. A far distant story. Perhaps the Gospel has become a victim of time... dead to us because it is too far away from us — because it is too familiar to us. ! Scripture promises to be a living word from God. What does living mean but
something that is active, something that is still with us?
Familiarity, as Aesop’s fox teaches us, breeds contempt. We no longer ﬁnd fascination with the lion — no fear, no shock, no awe. The fox passes by the lion three times, with each time the fox losing fascination with the lion. There resides with the fox no amount of ceremony as he leaves the presence of the mighty feline king.
Have we lost the respect for the Gospel because we know what to expect?
The Gospel that was once dead to me has become alive to me again — not because I know new things — but because I am no longer reading the Gospel. I am in the Gospel. ! Like waking up one morning to realize that you are living in your favorite
television show, the Gospel has become much more real.
In my life, I can see people around me who are the disciples, who are the characters in the Gospel stories. I know Thomas. Thomas is a friend of mine — an unidentiﬁed twin — a brother from another mother. He may doubt, he may question, but in the end, my Thomas remains loyal, is here as I look at Jesus and says to us, “Come, let us go with Jesus so that we may die with Jesus.” Yes, I know a Thomas. He calls me to be a better brother. ! I know Peter and Andrew as well. Peter is the loud mouth braggart. He is head
strong, forceful and cusses like a sailor. Sometimes, I look at him and think the same thing Jesus says, “Enough Satan - stop bothering me.” But I look at his brother Andrew the quiet one. The one who brings to Jesus those in most need of him — the hungry, the children, the different. These two brothers could not be more different — but these two brothers remind me that differences have been and will always be a part of the church, especially a church family. ! James is someone I greatly admire. See, James was a critic of Jesus. He didn’t
believe Jesus was who he said he was. I suspect James was dedicated, as he was supposed to be, to his family, Mary and other brothers and sisters who were left behind when Jesus went off to preach. But see, James went on after the death of Jesus to lead the tiny church. He served Jesus, he served his family, and he was a priest in the Temple. James is the one who I admire who reminds me that no matter how easy it is to rely on those you know, the greater reward is the one given to you when you earn your place.
! Working in government, I have met a Matthew or two. See, my friend Matthew is
a government employee who continues to serve Christ even in the halls of human power. He was called by Christ to follow him — and Matthew does — but Matthew knows that this doesn’t mean following Jesus into a hole somewhere to hide the candle. No, Matthew knows that his calling is to remain where he is, to always be the follower of Jesus who exempliﬁes a life in Christ in some of the darkest places on earth.! ! And yes, I even have Judas as a friend. See, as Christian tradition expanded, so
did the hatred of Judas and the story of his demise. In Mark and John’s Gospel, however, Judas does not kill himself. Indeed, in John, Judas seems to be present when Jesus appears to the disciples. I like Judas. He is the money guy; the investment strategist, and he is severely misunderstood.
Judas did not betray Jesus; Jesus betrayed Judas!
Judas expected a militant messiah, but Jesus while promising to overturn the Roman Empire and make Israel free, refused to do just that. Judas, my friend, is the one who is not well liked because he sticks to his principles. And in the end, his principles are the very thing that God uses to free Israel. Had Judas shut up and done nothing, Jesus would not have been cruciﬁed. No, Judas is the friend of ours who seems misunderstood, but in the end, we can count on to do what is right - even if we do not like it. !
But, what about Jesus? What about those miracles Jesus did? Have I left my insistence on rationalistic explanations behind? Of course not! Everything, I must conclude, can be reasoned through by the workings of a scientiﬁc mind.
Each of you can think of at least one special, unique, and unexplainable circumstance in your life. Maybe a coincidence. Maybe a healing. Maybe a friend that you never expected to have but showed up right in time. Maybe the love of your life. Sit there and try to think about your life at the moment. ! When my wife was pregnant with
Abigael, we awoke one morning to the feeling that in short order, our life was about to change. Abigael was on her way. We showed up at the hospital, went through the processes in record time and suddenly, we were in the cold delivery room. Three times now I’ve been in a delivery room, but that was the coldest. ! ! “Push!” the nurses yelled. And suddenly, Abigael stopped, a sure sign of how obstinate she would become
in her pre-teen years. She had changed her mind, obviously, and no amount of talking would convince her to move. The medical staff were getting worried. Her heart rate was down. It was looking serious. You all know what could happen if a baby stays in the birth canal for too long and some of you know what may cause the baby’s heart rate to suddenly drop. So, they called for the forceps. ! In the tradition I was raised in, I was a sinner who, while once saved and all that,
was “out of church” so I had two choices — repent or wait for hell to swallow me up.
God would only hear that repenting prayer, but nothing else and if that. Regardless, I began to pray. I had heard too much about forceps and babies and the injuries that could happen — and this was before the days for Dr. Google. But this was getting serious. So, I prayed, silently while sitting at my wife’s head, both of us nervous — the room colder, darker, quieter... ! In a ﬂash, just a second or two, — I can still remember every position, ever color,
every smell that happened in those long hours that were nothing but minutes before the doctor came in with the bright shiney forceps. ! I was worried. But I prayed. It wasn’t a particularly insightful prayer. Nor a loud
one. Pretty sure it was all of ﬁve words. ! ! But at the exact moment as those words drew to a close — at the exact moment
when the doctor walked in with those man-eating claws, Abigael was born.
When she was cleaned up and we ﬁnally got to hold her, there was this little
ﬁnger tip size red splotch on her eyelid. To me, this looked like where someone — something – had touched her. This was and is still today something that even as I seek to explain so very much, remains beyond my reach. John Wesley, a wise mine told me, one said that there were no coincidences. To me, today, Jesus was there. ! In what is now South Sudan, Christians there were slaughtered by the Sudanese
government. But, someone in those Sudanese churches found a passage of Scripture from Isaiah and began to read and see themselves in the passage. Because of this grounding in Scripture, the ﬂedgling mission of Episcopalians now number more than all
of the Episcopalians in the United States! Their anchor provided them with moral support as they sought to follow Jesus into independence. Today South Sudan is a free country, one of the few predominately Christian countries in Africa. For them, Jesus brought them out of bondage and gave them peace.
See, the Gospel has come alive again because while someone is constantly retelling the same story, it is altogether unexpected when the characters are those in your daily life — when you yourself appear in the Gospel!
The Gospel of Mark beings in the middle of a sentence — “Beginning of the announcement of Jesus the Messiah.”
Mark ends his story without telling us if Jesus arose again, ending his sentence almost in mid-.
The women are told to go tell the disciples to meet the resurrected Christ in Galilee. We aren’t told that their is a resurrected Christ. ! This is not the only strangeness of Mark’s Gospel. His writing style is unique as
well. Whereas Matthew and Luke write in the past tense, Mark almost always writes in the future tense. For Matthew and Luke, Jesus did, done, gone. For Mark, Jesus does, is doing, is coming. Now, this is perhaps a writing style, but for me, I like to think that Mark is presenting to us a living Jesus who is healing the sick — who is raising the dead
— who is performing miracles just over there, down by the sea. Mark wants us to come and see Jesus. Mark expects us to be in the story, to be the story.
This Gospel beckons us to see Jesus as the living Messiah, one who still does, not one who did. We follow Christ — he is not behind us, some 2000 years, but pressing on, forward, over there. If this is the case, then the Gospel is never familiar to us, because we are always a part of it. ! Sometimes, we have to unsettle our Christianity, to forget about the stories we are told. The best way to relearn these stories is to become a part of the story. Mark’s invites us to ﬁnd ourselves in the story and as such to experience Jesus anew. Perhaps you are like my friend Peter? Maybe your friends would rather see you as one the dynamic duo, the Sons of Thunder — brothers who went and did great things. Maybe you are like the family of Jesus. They doubted him, wanted him committed. He was all too familiar to them. But, in the end, the baby brother of Jesus was thrown off a wall for his leadership of the Church. ! Or maybe, better, you are one of the nameless people Jesus heals, raises from
the dead, and sometimes does not believe. ! ! The story of Jesus is still ongoing and thus we should refrain from getting too
familiar with it. Familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt will kill us - GO AND LIVE IN THE GOSPEL AND LET THE GOSPEL LIVE IN YOU.
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